Turn to any modern media outlet, online or offline, and everyone is preaching the low-carb diet as the be-all-end-all of weight loss, health, and vibrancy. Well, that’s probably because it is. However, low-carb diets are a dime a dozen nowadays, going from slight carb restriction to full-on ketosis, or just weeding out starchy carbs from your regime only.
So should you go for a completely carb-less approach or simply limit your carb intake so that you can tone down but still retain the energy levels needed for a good workout? Let the evolution of the low-carb diet guide you in the right direction.
The low-carb doctrine
It might seem like the product of modern research, but the low-carb diet is actually rooted in the ancient past – ancient Greece, to be exact. Somewhere about 776 BC, ancient Greek athletes competing in the Olympics were living, training, and thriving on a protein-heavy, low-carb diet. Okay, but when did the low-carb concept really kick-off?
For the modern fitness aficionado, the story begins with a noteworthy undertaker called William Banting who lived in the 19th century. Banting suffered from obesity and had spent years trying to figure out the cause of his overweight physique. To cut the long story short, it wasn’t until Banting met Dr. William Harvey who turned his attention to the carb-rich diet Banting was enjoying all his life. It had to stop.
Needless to say, after cutting starch and sugar out of his diet, Banting’s weight dropped and his health problems subsided. This is when he decided to write the first ever book on the low-carb diet called Letter on Corpulence, published in 1863.
Discovering the calorie
But this was only one part of the low-carb puzzle, as it would have been very difficult to popularize or maintain the prescribed diet had it not been for the discovery of calories by an agricultural chemist called Wilbur Atwater in somewhere between 1890 and 1900. By burning food in a calorimeter – a mini oven – Atwater was able to measure the amount of heat it produced by burning it to ash.
The premise was simple: your body works like an over, burning calories in order to create energy. If you burned more than you consumed, you would lose weight. Conversely, by eating more than you were burning, you would gain weight. However, this is where Banting discovered that, although calories play a crucial role, it will be the calorie source that will determine the body’s hormonal response, and therefore, the weight response itself.
The metabolic syndrome
Fast-forward five decades, and we come across the discovery of the metabolic syndrome – the simple premise stating that if caloric intake was kept the same, but macronutrients were varied, the body would experience varying effects. Consequently, this is when the various researchers concluded that carbs aided the fat-gain process more than other macronutrients and that calories were of secondary importance regarding weight loss.
This gave rise to the low-carb health movement, paving the road to the creation of the ketogenic diet some decades later, and the discovery of ketones. You’re probably asking yourself what are ketones and what is their role in the matter? The ketogenic diet eliminates carb intake in favor of higher fat and protein consumption, with ketones being the byproduct of beta-oxidation – when the body uses fat for fuel instead of glucose. However, this type of nutritional approach was, for a while, frowned upon.
Fat as the primary culprit in health deterioration
Between 1950 and 1960, scientists were extensively studying heart disease, ultimately coming to the conclusion that high cholesterol was the cause of heart conditions. For more than three decades, the public, as well as the entire American medical community, strongly believed that saturated fats were the main culprit in heart illness, effectively banishing the high-fat, low-carb diet as an unhealthy dietary approach.
The rise of the metabolic diet
Come the 90s, the researchers started focusing on insulin and metabolism as the main culprits in obesity. They weren’t wrong, as it had soon come to light that insulin plays a crucial role in weight gain. This means that eating a carb-rich diet elevates blood glucose levels, triggering the feeling of hunger.
This prompted the re-drafting of the entire USDA Food Pyramid, which gave way for the rise of the metabolic diet that praised the high-protein, high-fat approach once more. Thus, the low-carb, and the ketogenic diets rose to prominence as efficient and healthy ways to lose weight and maintain energy levels through beta-oxidation instead of glucose consumption.
The low-carb diet plan has been around for a while, although taking many forms over the years. By understanding the evolution of the doctrine, however, you can find out the best approach for your needs and fitness goals.